The Question Guy: It’s Just a Matter of Free Speech

By Lew Arnold/The Question Guy
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” – Søren Kierkegaard, (1813-1855) Danish philosopher widely considered to be the first existentialist …

It’s Just a Matter of Free Speech

The Independent recently received a string of three letters to our Editor concerning “freedom of speech” as “guaranteed” under the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The first came from a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer and former deputy sheriff concerned with his employer’s rule prohibiting employees from making “political statements while on the job.”

The next two letters came from lifelong area residents, one of whom is a retired teacher. All three are well-respected locals and, although I do not question their patriotism, I would like to make some observations . . .

In part, the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . ” The Supreme Court expanded “speech” to include all forms of “expression” (such as flag burning). At this point, things begin to get sticky.

You will note that the Constitution only prohibits Congress from limiting (abridging) our freedom of expression — it does not, however, restrict others from limiting speech. As a general rule, employers are free to restrict employee speech, at least while they are at work. And, I am free to restrict your speech while in my home.
Even the federal government can issue special rules for federal employees, members of the armed services and users of the public airwaves. Although they are tasked with protecting our rights, members of our armed forces have limits upon their freedom of speech — I‘m sure that the Chief Petty Officer can attest to that fact.

The Senior Chief goes on to state: “Now, all store employees are prohibited from making political statements while on the job. (I view this as) an attack on my First Amendment Right to the freedom of speech.”

The second letter stated that, “It amazed me that (the Senior Chief) hides behind the first amendment to justify an inappropriate comment in a work setting. It seems like common sense that this on the job behavior is unacceptable.”

A third letter defended the Senior Chief: “My friend . . . lost his job because he refused to knuckle under to the demands of his employer. It‘s not as if he was standing in the doorway questioning customers as they entered — He simply answered when asked.” He concluded, “If the attitude of the business owner(s) in the community is that their employees no longer have the rights as stated perhaps it is time for some of us to shop elsewhere.

Clearly, employee expression is not protected by the Constitution and, for those offended by an employer’s rule, there is always a right to work or shop elsewhere.